3D printing is undoubtedly one of the most revolutionary technological advances of the past fifty years. 3D printers have already redefined numerous industries, including logistics, automotive, and construction, thanks to their ability to accelerate and simplify production processes.
The biggest a 3D printer can print is 100 feet (30.48 m) in length, 22 feet (6.7 m) in width, and 10 feet (3.04 m) in height. The largest 3D printer in the world was built by Ingersoll Machine Tools in Rockford, Ill., and was acquired by the University of Maine in 2020.
In this article, I will tell you more about the current state of 3D printing technology so that you, too, may appreciate the speed at which 3D printers evolve. With 3D printer manufacturers constantly pushing their boundaries, 3D printers are getting increasingly sophisticated, large, and productive. Also, the objects that they can print are getting bigger and bigger.
The Process of Printing a 3D Object
3D printing, also referred to as additive manufacturing, involves building three-dimensional objects from a blueprint, like a CAD model or the scanned image of a three-dimensional object. The blueprint guides the 3D printer to deposit material according to a specific pattern.
So why is 3D printing also known as additive manufacturing?
Unlike subtractive manufacturing, which involves taking a block of material and removing parts until all that’s left is the final object, additive manufacturing consists of creating a thing out of nowhere by adding a layer of material on top of another.
In other words, 3D printed objects are built layer by layer – a technique that gives manufacturers a considerable competitive advantage in terms of efficiency, speed, and waste reduction.
For a long time, people mainly used 3D printers to build objects from plastic materials like ABS and polycarbonate.
Today, however, 3D printers are far more powerful and versatile than their predecessors, as you can use them to build objects out of various metals, including aluminum, stainless steel, and titanium. 3D printers can also work with materials such as concrete, food, human cells, and more.
What 3D Printers Can Do Today
Much has changed since Japanese inventor Hideo Kodama developed what is considered the mother of present-day 3D printers: a manufacturing system that builds objects layer-by-layer using a light-activated resin.
Today, you can create almost anything using a 3D printer. 3D printers are already a critical part of manufacturing tools, furniture, vehicles, houses, and, believe it or not, body parts!
3D printing is also revolutionizing the aviation industry, as more and more aircraft manufacturers are turning to additive manufacturing to build safe, lightweight, and energy-efficient airplanes. Eclipson, for instance, is a U.S. company that has been building 3D-printed aircraft since 1998.
Knowing that 3D printers allow manufacturers to create complex geometric shapes efficiently and cost-effectively, Eclipson has been exploiting the unique benefits of additive manufacturing to gain an advantage over aircraft manufacturers that still use traditional manufacturing techniques.
When building an aircraft using conventional manufacturing techniques, one must make every component before assembling the final product. Also, creating more complex shapes using traditional manufacturing techniques is tedious and cost-intensive.
There are two key reasons why 3D printing is more efficient and cost-effective than traditional manufacturing techniques:
- Since 3D printers can build large objects all at once, manufacturers do not have to develop and combine many different pieces to get the final product.
- 3D printers remove entire processes from the supply chain (e.g., assembly, transportation), thus allowing companies to save money and time – two extremely precious resources.
Biggest 3D Printed Objects
So what are the largest “objects” we can build today using a 3D printer? As previously mentioned, companies are already building airplanes using 3D printers, and planes are undoubtedly big. However, there are plenty of other examples of enormous 3D-printed parts.
Some companies also use 3D printers to build entire houses from scratch. These printers typically deposit concrete in thin layers to build structures. For example, a Chinese construction firm called HuaShang Tengda managed to construct a two-story villa entirely on-site in less than two months, using nothing more than a 3D printer!
If you are wondering how big the villa is, it is almost 1313 square feet (400 square meters). This villa consists of a material called C30, an inexpensive yet durable type of concrete. The final structure is strong enough to withstand an eight-magnitude earthquake.
The company used twenty tons of concrete for the villa’s walls alone. As impressive as all this may sound, HuaShang Tengda is only one of many companies that have successfully used 3D printers for their construction projects. Some time ago, another Chinese construction firm 3D printed a six-story apartment building.
Other massive 3D printed objects include:
- A 1.3-meter (51.1 inches) diameter ship propeller
- A rocket engine with a thrust of 10.4 tons (23,000 pounds/10432.625 kg)
- A 7.62-meter (25-foot) boat
As technology progresses, 3D printers will become more sophisticated, allowing us to print increasingly large objects. As it always happens, when a new technological device emerges, it takes some time for manufacturers to scale production. For now, large 3D printers remain costly tools that only a few companies can afford.
As demand and supply grow, 3D printers will inevitably become more affordable, and people will find new applications. Hopefully, one day, an enormous 3D printer will become something we can choose to have in our homes.
3D printers have already disrupted multiple industries. Over the past few decades, manufacturers have been trying to build increasingly large and sophisticated 3D printers. Thanks to their efforts, scientists, researchers, and companies worldwide have been able to make massive 3D printed objects.
If you think a car is the biggest a 3D printer can build, think again. As of today, the largest 3D printer in the world belongs to the University of Maine and can print objects 100 feet (30.48 m) in length, 22 feet (6.7 m) in width, and 10 feet (3.04 m) in height.